Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The eagle has landed

And so have we.

After a lo-o-o-ng flight, we finally touched down in Sydney at 9:58 pm on Monday 16 November and we were met by Donna - "Long time no see", was my weary comment. "Yeah, all of about 2 and a half weeks", she laughed.

We eventaully left Heathrow 2.5 hours after our scheduled departure time. All passengers were on board and the doors shut, then we sat at the gate past the departure time. After a short while, the captain came on the air and explained that there was some delay in finalising the loading of the cargo and that "we should be taxiing in about 10 minutes" which then became another 10 minutes and then another. He was pretty good about keeping us informed and explained that in an aircraft of this size, it was critical that the cargo was balanced correctly for maximum fuel efficiencies. He then proceeded to tell us a little about the plane we were travelling in.

It was the latest of the Qantas Airbus A380-800 planes with a capacity of 450 passengers (and today there was not a single seat vacant). Even in Economy, there is plenty of leg room and seat space - yes, I have lost some weight, but believe me, not that much! There is a really comprehensive entertainment system and the staff were very friendly. Anway, the delays continued and continued. One and a half hours after we were due to depart we finally pulled away from the gate. Honestly, I felt like cheering. We are taxiing towards the runway when we stop, presumably to wait our turn to turn onto the main runway. But no, again the Captain comes over the loudspeaker, "Sorry everyone, it appears that there is still a problem with the cargo loading and someone in dispatch is not happy. We have been told we have to return to the gate." There was a collective groan before the Captain continued "Don't worry guys, I am going to find the person responsible and march him up and down the aisles so you can all have a piece of him!" LOVE the Aussie humour!!

Well, we eventually took off TWO and a half hours after our scheduled departure time! Michael's mum said it made the news and my mum heard that it was late on the radio - guess there were a lot of people who were wanting to make sure we got home safe! LOL, actually makes a lot of sense when there are the family and friends of 450 people to try to let know! The staff were very apologetic and extra friendly. Tomazs from Poland was one of the staff assigned to our area and was really interested in where we had been in Poland and what we thought of his country. We were seated in Rows 61D and 61E and Marilyn and Alan from Norfolk in England were sitting next to us in 61F and 61G.

These new Airbus planes have a Skycam mounted high on the tail, enabling you to see everything that the pilot sees. It was fascinating and I could have watched it for the whole journey, except for the fact that it really wasn't too long and we were flying in to darkness and couldn't see a damn thing. But before darkness fell fully, we were flying over the big mountains of eastern central Europe and their cloud nursery was actively pumping out new clouds. This is one sight that we are going to miss. While there are clouds generated at lower levels in Australia, there is nothing so mystical as watching little wisps of nothingness billow and morph into white solid looking clouds. Then darkness is complete as we fly into the Asian continent. We fly over the Himalayan ranges but can't see a thing (other that the strobe lit that blinks monotonously atop the front cabin of the plane).

There are a whole range of movies showing as well as TV shows, documentaries and even audio books, as well as the obligatory games console, so there is no need to be bored. I watch The Taking of Pelham 123 (latest vesion, but could have also watched the original), The Proposal and A Bunch of Amateurs - nothing heavy and some REALITY TV shows - yeah, get over it - I love them! Michael is watching some ghouly horror thing that I can't stand - thankfully with our own earphones we can watch whatever our personal preferences like without impinging on any one else!

When we landed in Singapore we were able to get a close up look at the nose of the plane and we learned that this plane, the newest in the Qantas Airbus Fleet was named for Sir Fergus McMaster.
Coming in to land in Singapore there were literally hundreds of ships in the harbour and the surrounding bays - so many more than we used to see off Newcastle when we thought that 40 ships was a lot! On and off we passed through rain clouds and I am amazed at how quickly the lens of the Skycam dries off.

At Singapore we all had to leave the plane, taking all our onboard luggage - goodness knows why, we were returning to the same seats on the same plane! So we all filed off, went down one corridor, through a set of doors into the terminal lounge and then turned left, passed through security and all sat in seats just outside the doors to the gangway straight back on to the plane! A distance of maybe 150 metres! We left Singapore at 11:45 am (4:45 am London time the next day my body is loudly telling me)

Captain Mike O'Neill again apologises for all the delays as we get underway again. The aircrew are now Australian and it is great to be under their control - Ryan (cheeky and young) and Maschiko are looking after us.

Finally arrived in Sydney at 9:58 pm +1 ( or 11:07 am London time). We are the only plane unloading at the moment and everything goes very smoothly (for once!) - I had been dreading finding out that our luggage had been off-loaded in London, not to be re-loaded. Anyway, heavy luggage collected and two trolleys filled with the two suitcases and all our carry on luggage and coats etc., we proceed through Immigration "HOW long were you away? Wow, what a fantastic trip it must have been!" and on to Customs.

We had goods to declare, but the process for moving through Customs is a little different to my last trip in 2006. There are a number of staff that you pass through that direct you down various lanes. They start to send me down one line and Michael down another, but our luggage is all intertwined so we just go down the one path together. Eventually we get to the final inspection point without ever needing to break stride.

The young lass questioned what we had in the drugs, timber (Babuschka dolls) foodstuffs (Belgian chocolate and nougat, and Italian Balsamic) and in-a-national-park (Plitvice NP in Croatia a few short weeks ago) categories that we had ticked the boxes for. We replied and then she just said "OK thanks, you're OK - just go through that door". Wow, that was easy! Next thing we know we are in the arms of Donna!

It takes a while to exchange our currency and then we walk over to where the ute is passed and load it - heavily! Chatting non-stop we drive out to Michael's mums at Greystanes where she is waiting up for us. Harvey Wallbangers are the go for a welcome home drink and some nibblies. Thank goodness she gave away the idea of having a fully cooked meal for us - at this hour we could not have eaten it for quids.

So we chatted for some and then Donna left for home. Netta, Michael and I sat up past 3 am just talking about all that has happened in the past year. Finally we crash. Michael has trouble sleeping, but ha ha, not me!!! And still the next day I had another nap while Michael and his Mum go in to Merrylands to do some shopping. We all sleep well on Tuesday night and by 9 pm Wednesday night, Michael is falling asleep on the phone talking to his brother. Think we have all caught up now.

So at the moment we are enjoying spending some time with Netta, arguing with internet providers who insist that we have to buy an unwanted and unnecessary USB modem to access wifi services (eastern Europe was easier) and looking for cars and me a job. Anyone got any leads? Please let me know!

We are catching up with a heap of Sydney based friends this week and then off to my mums in Newcastle on Sunday or Monday for a week before returning to Sydney for a few more days before we head north for home. So not long now guys - should be there around the 8th or 9th December. Don't know how much time I am going to have to blog, so see you when I do either here or in person!

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